Goodbye Christopher Robin is a look at the life of Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (known as Billy Moon). Society likes Milne’s comedies but after the The First World War, his eyes are opened. He doesn’t want to make the world laugh. He wants to make them see. However, whilst living in the country, he starts to write fun stories about his son, and his stuffed animals. This would go onto become the world of Winnie the Pooh and inspire generations of children, even into twenty-first century. Published between 1926 and 1928, Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner were an instant hit, testing the relationship between Billy and his father.
Born in the November of 1995 and growing up in the noughties, I too was captivated by Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and that was over seventy years after it was first published. Looking at them as an adult, I now see that these books are timeless. The stories of Winnie, Christopher Robin, Piglet, and company are a manifestation of childhood innocence that will enchant all people, no matter their ethnicity, gender or age. Seeing the underrated Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn) as A. A. Milne (known as Blue), Margot Robbie (WTF) as his wife Daphne and Kelly MacDonald (Trainspotting) as Nanny with the incredibly talented Will Tilston playing eight year-old Billy Moon is its own reward.
Watching all the trailers for the film and seeing all the promotional material, the actual picture is darker than one would think. But a 12 certificate is necessary, as PG doesn’t cut it. As soon as I heard they were doing a biopic on this man, I knew I had to see it and it’s now in my top five films of the year. It’s not a clean cut biography drama. Blue’s dark and troubled personal life was greatly explored and by the end you just want to give this man a hug, as well as the older Christopher Robin (Alex Lawther) who just wanted his father to love him. “He has to know he’s important to someone. That someone cares about him” says Nanny, and this scene is crippling to watch.
The war gave Milne PTSD and he became very public with his antiwar ideologies. In 1934, Peace With Honour was published. However, Winnie The Pooh and these characters sort of act like the ice to his fire. They were the antithesis of the childhood innocence he created, stuffed dead like Billy’s toys. “The creatures in the story are toys. They’re toys, but the woods are real”. Milne’s life was anything but warm and Billy Moon’s childhood was anything but that as well. He was a celebrity and was bullied in school because of it. And he went to fight during the Second World War so he could be a person and not a character. He could be Private Milne and that was his forever.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fascinating character study of not only A. A. Milne but of childhood trauma and how even something as glitzy as fame can be a traumatic experience. That’s well depicted through the scenes shared between Nanny (Kelly MacDonald) and little Billy Moon. Yet, the film fascinates and illuminates. As a film in its own right, it holds up. It’s not a feel-good period drama like the trailers would have you believe. There are many scenes that are joyless, but very necessary in showing that the story behind Pooh isn’t all fun and games, like when we start with Alan at the war which then takes us into a room where he’s giving a brutally honest antiwar ballad.
The film is well-shot, many thanks to cinematographer Ben Smithard (Belle) and director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold), bringing the best out of rural Britain and the period costume (Odile Dicks-Mireaux). Honestly, it feels a lot like it was straight of Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five or one of those mid-twentieth century children’s adventure storybooks. Composer Carter Burwell (Carol) hit my emotions for six with the musical score: elegant yet brutally heavy. The cinematography combined with fantastic acting performances and musical score creates a romantic quality that could have been in a battle with the Milnes’ domestic life but it’s a contrast that speaks volumes.
If there’s an antagonist in this film, it’s certainly Daphne (Margot Robbie) using Billy as a commodity item whilst Alan is having second thoughts. Goodbye Christopher Robin is a great coming of age drama about Billy Moon’s relationship with his father and many thought-provoking messages about love, war (or lack of) and growing up. This might be the hidden gem of 2017 and it’s pushed me to read more of Milne’s work, starting with Peace With Honour, which this review is named for.